Microsoft hiring a nuclear power program manager, because AI needs lots of 'leccy

Envisions a 'comprehensive small modular reactor and microreactor integration roadmap'

Microsoft is hiring a "Principal Program Manager Nuclear Technology" to oversee its efforts to power datacenters with nuclear reactors.

A job ad spells out that whoever gets the job "will be responsible for maturing and implementing a global Small Modular Reactor (SMR) and microreactor energy strategy."

"This senior position is tasked with leading the technical assessment for the integration of SMR and microreactors to power the datacenters that the Microsoft Cloud and AI reside on," the ad continues.

The manager will also "maintain a clear and adaptable roadmap for the technology's integration, diligently select and manage technology partners and solutions, and constantly evaluate the business implications of progress and implementation."

Also on the job description is energy industry experience, "a deep understanding of nuclear technologies and regulatory affairs," and a willingness to take responsibility for "research and developing other precommercial energy technologies."

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are just that – small, modular, nuclear fission power plants that can be rolled off a production line and are sufficiently portable they can be placed in many environments. Conventional nuclear plants are bespoke, and vastly expensive to construct. SMRs are said to be less complex and therefore also less risky.

No SMR has come online, although China's Linglong One passed an acceptance test in July 2023. Russia has also licensed an SMR. Supporters argue that SMRs could be built on the sites of existing fossil-fuel-fired power plants, to take advantage of their existing grid connections.

Microreactors are even smaller than SMRs – perhaps even portable.

Interest in SMRs is nonetheless high, as they emit no CO2 during operations and are thought to be capable of producing 35MW of power from a small physical footprint. As The Register has previously reported, perhaps four SMRs would be needed to power a datacenter.

Microsoft has also invested in fusion power for Azure, despite the tech being even less commercially proven than SMRs.

That the software giant is exploring such ideas is indicative of energy being an enormous expense for datacenter operators, and its plan to achieve carbon-negative status by 2030.

Whether SMRs can help Microsoft reduce costs or reduce its carbon footprint is not known. Realistically, the reactors are years away from being permitted to operate in the US or Europe – maybe decades.

Whether they'll compete on price with other sources of electricity is hard to forecast – as is whether any community wants to host one. For all the talk of small size and enhanced safety, nuclear energy carries unique risks and operators may find it hard to secure permission to locate them near datacenters. And datacenters are usually quite close to lots of people, for reasons including latency.

Microsoft's job ad, which was first reported in Datacenter Dynamics, doesn't set goals for its nuclear program, instead mentioning development of a strategy for SMRs and microreactors. If and when Azure starts glowing azure, The Register will let you know. ®

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